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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Interpol on the brink as Putin crony set to take over

Alexander Prokopchuk, an associate of Vladimir Putin, could become Interpol president on Wednesday

Interpol vice president Alexander Prokopchuk (L) and and Meng Hongwei, president of Interpol, attend the opening of the Interpol World Congress in Singapore on July 4, 2017. / AFP / ROSLAN RAHMAN
Interpol vice president Alexander Prokopchuk (L) and and Meng Hongwei, president of Interpol, attend the opening of the Interpol World Congress in Singapore on July 4, 2017. / AFP / ROSLAN RAHMAN

The future of Interpol was questioned on Tuesday, as a close associate of Vladimir Putin looked set to win election as the organisation's new president on Wednesday.

Alexander Prokopchuk, a general in the Russian interior ministry, is the front-runner of two candidates contesting the election, which was triggered by the disappearance of Meng Hongwei, who is reportedly under arrest in his native China.

European countries, including Lithuania and Ukraine, have threatened to pull out of the International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) and critics of Vladimir Putin have warned they are threatened by development.

The resignation of Mr Meng followed his detention in China on corruption charges. The final vote is scheduled to take place at the organisation’s annual conference on Wednesday in Dubai,

One of the main issue of contention is Russia’s use of the organisation's red notices, the system by which arrest warrants are notified across borders. While Red Notice alerts are designed to catch suspected criminals who have travelled to foreign countries, critics say Russia has attempted to use the alerts in politically motivated arrests.

At a press conference in London, two high-profile figures who have been targeted in an alleged manipulation of the Interpol mechanism, condemned the campaign to have Mr Prokopchuk elected president.

Bill Browder, a British financier was arrested in Spain this year as a result of a red notice in his name issued by Russia. It was later disregarded as politically motivated. He said that Mr Prokopchuk’s election would be “like putting the mafia in charge” of the police.

"I can't imagine a more inappropriate person than the architect of the abuse doled out to me by Russia through Interpol,” he said.

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Russian dissident and former billionaire, Mikhail Khordorkovsky, has had a number of red notices issued against him. He warned that Mr Prokopchuk’s election could have serious consequences for data sharing between international police forces. “I am seriously concerned that a representative of the Kremlin will have access to the Interpol database," he said.

Ben Keith, a barrister at 5 St Andrew's Hill, who works with international warrants, told The National that voting states should have a last-minute rethink. "Appointing Prokopchuk hands legitimacy for abuse of Interpol to Putin and puts his cronies in charge,” he said. “Russia already uses Interpol to pursue opponents for political and financial ends. Appointing him as president give credence to corrupt practices and allows Russia to claim legitimacy for flagrant breaches of international law and human rights."

Mr Browder warned that western nations might have to consider their future in the organisation in the event of Mr Prokopchuk’s election. “If a Russian heads Interpol, the West will have to look for Plan B,” he said.

Indeed, it appeared that was already the case, as Ukraine’s Interior Minister, Arsen Avakov describing the potential appointment as absurd, said Ukraine may be pull out of the 194-member organisation should the Russian win the presidential election. Lithuania’s parliament voted unanimously to consider withdrawing in the event of Mr Prokopchuk’s election.